The other day my yoga teacher was talking about pausing between breaths, and how that relates to taking moments of stillness between life’s activities. I thought about how we tend to focus on what we do, hear, say and see rather than on what we don’t. A couple of years ago, I went to a concert where the musician commented that the space between the notes is still part of the music. When I teach communication skills, I remind students that silences are still part of a conversation. White space in an advertisement is part of the message. And not doing can often help you get where you want to be.
Too often, we have the urge to fill those spaces between. We barely wait for someone else to finish talking before we begin. We fill all the space on the page with words and pictures. We fill our houses with stuff. We fill our days with activity after activity. We are uncomfortable with silence, we mistake simplicity for emptiness, and we confuse activity with accomplishment.
In his book, Wisdom 2.0, Soren Gordhamer suggests that our stress and irritation whenever we have to stop and wait for something (traffic, checkout lines, slow computers) might come from our disconnection with our inner life. We just feel uncomfortable being alone with our thoughts and feelings, even for a few minutes. To restore that connection, Gordhamer recommends viewing these forced pauses as an invitation to relax, to breathe, and to take a break. Yes, it’s frustrating to wait when you might already be late, but since you cannot change it, accept it as a gift. Use the time to breathe deeply and notice what’s going on around you, and “be present as you wait.”
I tried this yesterday while waiting in line to pick up a prescription. Everyone in front of me was taking a long time. But I didn’t get impatient; I just waited, and breathed. I even let the person behind me go ahead of me because he seemed to be in distress. I felt pretty good when I left the store – at exactly the same time, but in a much better frame of mind, as I would have left if I had been fuming the whole time.